Posted on May 13, 2009
By admin in Uncategorized
BBC documentary examining the great leap in scientific knowledge that took
place in the Islamic world between the 8th and 14th centuries.
Isaac Newton is, as most will agree, the greatest physicist of all time.
At the very least, he is the undisputed father of modern optics, or so we are
told at school where our textbooks abound with his famous experiments with
lenses and prisms, his study of the nature of light and its reflection, and the
refraction and decomposition of light into the colours of the rainbow.
Yet, the truth is rather greyer; and I feel it important to point out that,
certainly in the field of optics, Newton himself stood on the shoulders of a
giant who lived 700 years earlier.
For, without doubt, another great physicist, who is worthy of ranking up
alongside Newton, is a scientist born in AD 965 in what is now Iraq who went by
the name of al-Hassan Ibn al-Haytham.
Most people in the West will never have even heard of him.
As a physicist myself, I am quite in awe of this manís contribution to my
field, but I was fortunate enough to have recently been given the opportunity
to dig a little into his life and work through my recent filming of a
three-part BBC Four series on medieval Islamic scientists.
Popular accounts of the history of science typically suggest that no major
scientific advances took place in between the ancient Greeks and the European
But just because Western Europe languished in
the Dark Ages, does not mean there was stagnation elsewhere. Indeed, the period
between the 9th and 13th Centuries marked the Golden Age of Arabic science.
Great advances were made in mathematics, astronomy, medicine, physics,
chemistry and philosophy. Among the many geniuses of that period Ibn al-Haytham
stands taller than all the others.
First shown on BBC4 05/01/2009
Professor Jim Al-Khalili presents Science and Islam